Insights

Who Killed The Million Dollar Project?

As a founding director of a successful Data Services and Analytics consultancy I have the pleasure of meeting and working with executives in enterprises across a range of established and emerging sectors. Many of our clients are in the process of replacing or developing existing BI deployments and some are tentatively dipping their toe into the BI space for the first time.

In countless BI deployments the majority of time, money and effort is put in pre-launch as the BI team focus on reaching the “Apply” part of the data lifecycle, where clients expect to realize the returns from their BI investment.

Launch day comes!
…and goes…
Time passes.

The management team reviews the success of the project only to discover that users are still poulating their spreadsheets and using excel ninja skills to generate a hundred different versions of the truth. Meanwhile the new Business Intelligence system sits ignored and unused. What happened to the BI vision? It’s more than likely that the vision sat in the heads of the project sponsors, the IT staff and a few middle managers who were given a demo six months before. Nobody communicated the strategy and benefits to the users or the wider business. The million dollar project is deader than a dead parrot in a Monty Python Sketch.

In 2011 Gartner published research showing that a staggering 70-80% of BI projects fail. Although I‘ve seen a definite improvement in the success of BI deployments since then, there are still too many BI deployments that only achieve partial success and fail to fully realise the improved business performance and decision making benefits that BI can and should bring.

This is an Ex-Parrot!

A common feature of unsuccessful BI projects is their failure to fully consider stakeholders in the development and execution of the BI strategy. Failure to communicate and educate stakeholders on the business benefits and practical uses of a large BI deployment can ultimately contribute to the failure of the project.

As every manager will testify, most people are resistant to change and are happy to give themselves excuses as to why. “What’s wrong with the current system?” “I don’t have the time to learn anything new.” Unless the changes brought about by the BI solution are communicated properly, the people part of your BI project will simply continue to work the way they always have. To neutralize the resistance and to help people understand the value of the new system, the project team needs to focus on not just the technology and processes involved in the project but the people or stakeholders.

Communicate and Educate

Throughout the planning, strategy and execution stages of the project, everyone involved has spent weeks and months discussing the need for the new BI deployment or project, the problems with the existing systems and processes and the benefits of the new solution. It’s easy to assume that all stakeholders and end-users are already bought into the new solution and forget they haven’t gone through the “Sales” process that the project team has.

Set your Objectives

Begin by deciding what you want to achieve in terms of stakeholder and user adoption and break this down into key objectives and measurable goals including dates and timelines.

Know your Audience

Before creating your communication plan begin by dividing your stakeholders into different groups. The promotional activity and effort needs to be tailored by BI user segment. Such as:

  • The decision makers who rely on data and analysis (but who may not log on)
  • The gatekeepers who provide custom reports and create spreadmarts
  • The broad base of people who still don’t know what the BI deployment is all about.

Determine your customer segments by differences in the full potential user base. These differences could be based on job level, job function or data literacy.

Looking at each segment ask: Why should this group want to use the new BI system? What is it about the new solution that makes it better than the current software and processes that everyone is currently using? Begin to develop the key messages you want to communicate by translating the features you are so comfortable and knowledgeable about, into benefits for the users. For example, if you are introducing a completely new software offering, your stakeholders need to know that it’s because the software is more reliable and faster than the current system and integrates into other software they use to cut-down on duplication of work, give them greater insight into their data and reduces their hours spent producing reports.

The Pitch

The elevator pitch is your one-minute pitch on your new BI project and the value it brings to your company or business unit. Every member of the BI and project team should be well versed in the elevator pitch. Know it, practice it, and repeat it. The best promoters are executive-level sponsors and user testimonials. If you can get them to deliver their own version of the elevator pitch then you’re on to a winner.

Promote, Promote and Promote Again

Inbound marketing and sales platform Hubspot states you should spend as much time promoting news as you do creating it, so remember to get your message out there, making use of existing communication channels along with setting up your own channels. Design your education plan utilising formal training classes, how-to videos, roadshows, lunch and learn sessions, online knowledgebases and Q&As. Design your communication plan making use of webinars, company newsletters, staff meetings, etc.

Keep the messages clear and simple and take every opportunity to communicate. Very often, users need to hear the same messages multiple times in different formats before the benefits and value are properly understood.

Measure and Analyze

You should be back in familiar territory by this stage as you track user adoption and measure it against your user adoption and stakeholder objectives. Track per segment, per department and watch for trends. For example:

  • How many users are logged in, during the first one, two and three months after launch?
  • How many concurrent queries are being run each minute, each hour, each day?
  • How many BI reports are being viewed? Is this increasing as the communication and education plan is rolled out?
  • How many reports are being edited?
  • How many requests for training did you receive?
  • How many courses did you run?
  • How were they received?

Feed these results back into the BI solution. If key stakeholders aren’t utilizing the system, is it an issue with the BI system that can be resolved or is further education and training required? Apply these ongoing results into the next BI project to continue to improve uptake and success of each new BI deployment.

A Final Word from Kevin…

Kevin Costner said “If you build it they will come.” Not true. Every BI deployment needs an education and communications strategy to give your stakeholders the opportunity to understand and be fully aware of the very real benefits and competitive advantages that having BI at the center of your organization will bring.

Article written by Brian Rutherford
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